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Immigration in Canada: Some refugees’ housing situation dire

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TORONTO –

For thousands of refugees, the chance to come to Canada is a dream, but for far too many who are already here, their situation has grown dangerously desperate.

A Palestinian refugee stabbed herself in the stomach, just below the ribcage, last week while in a meeting with a federal government official with Immigration Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC).

Sitting on a park bench, a day after being released from hospital, Aziza Abusirdana tells CTV News, “I put a knife in my body because no one cares. Seriously no one cares.”

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For seven months she’s been stuck, living in a refugee hotel west of Toronto. She says she never intended to kill herself, but decided to stab herself in the stomach to try and get the attention of the federal government and the settlement agency which, for more than half a year, hasn’t been able to assist her in finding what she believes would be a safe place to live.

Abusirdana believes the government has failed her. Exasperated, she says, “If you [the government] know that there’s no suitable place for me to stay why did you accept me to come [to Canada]?”

Raised in Gaza, Abusirdana’s young life has been filled with trauma. She claims her own father and grandfather back home have threatened to find her and kill her. The 22-year-old left home and was on a scholarship from an Algerian university, but says she had to drop out and flee to Canada amid fears that her own family was tracking her down with plans to murder her.

Publicly, she doesn’t share what led to her situation with her father and grandfather, but the incident has left her traumatized, alone and isolated in a new country, and unable to trust anyone. Her request for housing is straight forward: her own bedroom and bathroom with a lock on each door. And she can’t live in a shared space with men.

She says she’s been shown nothing but inadequate apartments. Sometimes she’s been shown the same place twice. The $1,100 a month she receives from the government will run out in five months, and having enough money to feed herself and put a roof over her head in Toronto’s red hot rental market, has limited her options.

Abusirdana says she even travelled to Ottawa to try and speak to Immigration Canada, but the trip resolved nothing.

“I was suffering in Palestine, I was suffering in Algeria, I didn’t think I’d suffer here in Canada,” admits the distraught woman.

CTV News asked Abusirdana if she was offered a therapist or psychologist to sit down with after arriving in Canada. She says no, the only option presented was to pay $150 per session out of pocket, which she couldn’t afford.

Abusirdana is the second refugee in a month to harm themselves at the same refugee hotel. In mid-October, a father from Afghanistan decided to sew his lips together in protest.

He and his family of eight had been living in the hotel waiting for the government to deliver their paperwork for more than 12 months. A couple of weeks after he took the drastic step the federal government signed, sealed and sent his family their papers.

One advocate is concerned that more and more refugees are going to harm themselves in a desperate cry for help.

“This is what I’m worried about,” says refugee advocate Mona Elshayal. “It’s taking too long for people to find housing, and they really don’t have any hope. After months in a hotel with nowhere to go their mental health is rapidly deteriorating.”

These disturbing developments come as Canada’s Minister of Immigration Refugees and Citizenship Canada Sean Fraser announced his government’s plan to plow forward with its “ambitious” target to bring 40,000 refugees to Canada from Afghanistan. So far they’ve brought over more than half of their targeted goal.

At a press conference this week in Toronto Fraser proclaimed, “We’re going to continue to lead the world when it comes to refugee resettlement. In each of the past three years Canada has resettled more refugees than anywhere else in the world. In fact, Canada was responsible for more than one-third of the total number of refugees that were resettled in each of the last two years.”

But many newcomers who’ve spoken with CTV News over the last several months say that you can’t call it resettlement when you’ve left a large number of refugees stranded at a hotel on Canadian soil for six to 12 months, with no home and no papers, unable to work, go to school, or pay taxes.

As an advocate, Elshayal says she supports Canada’s efforts to bring refugees here, but not if they’re being “re-traumatized” by a “broken system.”

Elshayal believes “the program needs to be re-evaluated, they should consider taking the families to smaller communities where they would have the support and ability to live on the financial assistance that’s given to them. We need to provide mental health support because every single one of them needs its.”

The long-time advocate also points the blame at the agencies hired by the federal government to resettle newcomers.

An organization called Polycultural has been put in charge at Abusirdana’s hotel west of Toronto. Multiple CTV News investigations have uncovered several reported issues with how Polycultural has been handling the refugees in its care at this location.

The resettlement agency’s executive director, Marwan Ismail, was also at the meeting with a manager from the IRCC when Abusirdana stabbed herself in the abdomen last week.

In an email, Ismail told CTV News, “We were shocked and saddened at what happened during our meeting with Aziza last week. Since then, we have scheduled a follow-up meeting with her to offer mental health support while we continue working to find her a suitable home.”

Advocate Elshayal was also at the meeting, after Abusirdana requested she attend.

“She (Aziza Abusirdana) stood up during the meeting, she got very frustrated. I tried to talk to her, but she looked away and said something under her breath, then she took the knife out of her pocket and plunged it into her stomach.”

Continuing her recollection, Elshayal said, “She fell to the ground; I immediately went down and looked for something to put pressure on the wound and I asked the person from Polycultural to call 911.

“I could sense that every time we met that she was getting more and more frustrated. I’ve spoken with Polycultural and the IRCC about the mental health situation in the hotel.”

Doctors have told Abusirdana she’s fortunate that the knife didn’t go deeper into her stomach. The 22-year-old says she has the same hopes and dreams of anyone her age.

“I’d like to complete my education. I want to work and have a nice job, and have the chance to live a life. I deserve a chance to life but right now there’s nothing.”

If you or someone you know is in crisis, here are some resources that are available.

Canada Suicide Prevention Helpline (1-833-456-4566)

Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (1 800 463-2338)

Crisis Services Canada (1-833-456-4566 or text 45645)

Kids Help Phone (1-800-668-6868)

If you need immediate assistance call 911 or go to the nearest hospital.

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Afghan refugees: Government delays increasing financial pressure – CTV News

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Refugee advocates are raising concerns that Afghan refugees granted asylum in Canada are being burdened by escalating costs stemming from the government’s delay in processing their claims.

Before they board their flight to Canada, all refugees are required to sign a loan agreement to pay back the cost of their transportation and pre-arrival expenses which can include hotel stays.

Some Afghans identified by Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada as eligible for resettlement have been waiting months for exit permits while living in hotels arranged by the government. The hotel bills can add thousands of dollars to their debt.

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The Canadian Council for Refugees says Afghans are being forced to pay for an inefficient bureaucracy.

“It seems like the Canadian government is taking advantage of the vulnerability of people,” says Janet Dench, executive director of the Canadian Council of Refugees. Hotel bills can add thousands of dollars to their government debt.

Dench says refugees have no choice but to accept a “legally dubious” contract that doesn’t stipulate a precise loan amount.

“If they want a permanent home they have to sign on to whatever the terms of the agreement are. There’s no negotiation room, so people are forced into this situation.”

LONG WAITS AND BIG BILLS

Because Canada doesn’t recognize the Taliban government Afghans must get to a third country with consular support to complete their refugee applications. Many flee to neighboring Pakistan where Canada has a High Commission in the capital of Islamabad.

Nearly all Afghan refugees deemed eligible for resettlement are placed in the care of the International Organization for Migration while they are overseas.

The IOM organizes both charter and commercial flights to Canada and coordinates hotel stays for refugees as they wait for their exit permits. IOM doesn’t book flights until after IRCC has completed security and medical checks of its applicants. The organization bills the Canadian government approximately $150 per day to house and provide three meals a day for one family.

Of the 25,400 Afghans who have arrived in Canada since August 2021, IOM spokesperson Paul Dillon told CTV News in an emailed statement Friday the organizations has arranged travel for more than 22,000 of those refugees.

The claims of another 15,000 Afghans Canada committed to accepting after the Taliban took over the country have been delayed.

Irfanullah Noori, 28 and his family of five stepped off a plane at Pearson International Airport less than two months ago at the end of October. Before the Taliban took over his homeland in Noori worked as a logistics coordinator at the Kabul International Airport. He qualified for asylum because his brother served as an interpreter for Canadian soldiers.

Before being issued travel documents to Canada, Nouri, his wife and their three children, all under the age of five – stayed in an Islamabad hotel arranged by IOM for three months.

Irfanullah Noori poses with his youngest daughter on October 25, 2022 at the Pakistan International Airport before he boarded plane bound for Canada.

Before boarding his flight he signed a loan agreement. Nouri says IOM staff told him he would need to repay hotel expenses that added up to more than $13,000. That amount does not factor in the cost of flights for his family that he will also have to repay.

MISLEADING COSTS

IRCC says 96 per cent of refugees are able to pay back the loans. Monthly payments on the interest free loans are scheduled to begin one year after refugees arrive in Canada and costs can be spread out over nine years.

The federal government puts a cap of $15,000 on each loan per family, but the Canadian Council for Refugees says this is a misleading number.

Refugee families who have older dependents may have to pay back more than the cap. That’s because dependents over the age of 22 years old, can be considered a separate family unit and required to take on a new loan. Dench says this policy puts refugees in a precarious economic position. She’s seen families fight over finances and hopes and dreams put on hold.

“You have young people who should normally be going to university and pursuing their education but they feel that they’re morally obliged to get down to work, even at a minimum wage job in order to pay off the family debt,” said Dench. She argues the Canadian government should stop requiring refugees to repay the costs of getting them to safety, no matter where they come from.

SIMILAR CLAIMS, DIFFERENT TIME FRAMES

Since the fall of Kabul in August 2021, the Veterans Transition Network has helped raise funds to get interpreters and others out of Afghanistan. Oliver Thorne, VTN’s executive director says he’s frustrated that there are huge variations how long it takes for claims to be approved between applicants with similar profiles

“Some migrants are left in the dark. They don’t know why it’s taking them an additional two, four or six months compared to another interpreter who worked with the Canadian armed forces.” Thorne says IRCC needs to hire and train more staff to speed up the processing of claims.

He’s also calling for the removal of loan requirements, especially for Afghans who assisted the Canadian armed forces.

“They protected our men and women in uniform at great risk to themselves and their families. And secondly, these are going to be Canadians. They’re going to live here in our society down the street from us, and we have nothing to gain by making their transition more difficult,” Thorne said in an interview from Vancouver.

NO DEBT RELIEF

CTV News asked the Immigration Minister if it was fair that the Canadian government was burdening Afghans with additional costs due to the government backlog.

On Friday, Sean Fraser blamed a complicated process, but acknowledged that some refugees had been stuck “for a significant period of time.’ But the minister offered few solutions other than a vague reassurance that his department was “working with Pakistani officials to make sure we’re facilitating the smooth transportation of people to Canada.”

Meanwhile Noori is struggling to make ends meet in his new Ontario home, despite finding a job a few weeks ago at the General Motors plant in Oshawa.

Hired as a data-entry clerk, Noori earns $19/hour and is trying to pick up extra shifts on the weekend so he can make his $2,000 monthly rent on a one bedroom apartment.

Even though he won’t have to start paying back his refugee loan until next year, he’s daunted by the impending bill.

“It’s expensive (here.) I work 8 hours a day and six days a week. It will be very hard for me to pay back.”

After surviving the Taliban, Noori now faces subsistence in Canada.

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Children’s hospital in Newfoundland and Labrador is cancelling some surgeries

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A children’s hospital in the capital of Newfoundland and Labrador is cancelling some surgeries and appointments starting Monday.

Health officials say it’s due to a high level of respiratory illness.

It is unclear how many surgeries and appointments at Janeway Children’s Health and Rehabilitation Centre in St. John‘s will be affected.

Residents who are not experiencing a medical emergency are being asked to avoid visiting an emergency department.

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Slain RCMP Const. Yang cleared of wrongdoing in shooting: B.C. police watchdog

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Slain RCMP Const. Yang cleared of wrongdoing in shooting: B.C. police watchdog

British Columbia‘s police watchdog has cleared a slain Burnaby RCMP constable of wrongdoing after she shot a man in the altercation that led to her death.

The Independent Investigations Office says after a review of all available evidence its chief civilian director determined that there are no reasonable grounds to believe Const. Shaelyn Yang committed an offence.

It says the matter will not be referred to the Crown for consideration of charges.

Yang, a 31-year-old mental health and homeless outreach officer, was stabbed to death on Oct. 18 while she and a City of Burnaby employee attempted to issue an eviction notice to a man who had been living in a tent at a local park.

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Yang shot the suspect before she died, and the IIO later said Jongwon Ham underwent surgery for his injuries.

Ham has since been charged with first-degree murder in Yang’s death.

“Due to concurrent court proceedings related to the incident, the IIO’s public report will not be released on the IIO website until that process has concluded,” the IIO said in a news release.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 3, 2022.

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